News / USA

Expert: In Some Countries, US Torn Between Values, Interests

A Libyan protester holds up a sign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during a demonstration in Tobruk, Libya, February 23, 2011
A Libyan protester holds up a sign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during a demonstration in Tobruk, Libya, February 23, 2011

Multimedia

Audio

The dilemma has been haunting the United States for decades. Do you prop up a regime that treats you favorably, even if that regime does not necessarily share your democratic principles? Or do you stand firm on your values, even if it means losing a partner or ally?

In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, the United States opted for the former approach. Some say it paid for it dearly. They claim that not only did the U.S. sacrifice its own principles, it also ended up losing its partners and allies to popular revolts. Ironically, the revolts were about greater freedom and democracy – values, many believe, the U.S. should have supported in these countries all along. Others say that in propping up or tolerating some autocratic rulers, the U.S. is merely choosing between a known and an unknown, between a relationship it can, to some extent, control and one over which it might have no grip.

VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke about this dilemma and the Obama administration’s handling of the recent turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East with Michael Mandelbaum, a professor of American foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Listen to our interview with Michael Mandelbaum:

Mandelbaum: The American government’s response has been confused and conflicted but that is, I think, appropriate because the situation in that part of the world is confusing and the United States does face, in some of these countries anyway, a conflict between its values and its interests.

Our American values would have a support movement against dictators everywhere since the United States stands for and has stood for, since the beginning and the founding of the republic, democracy. We founded our country in opposition to what we regarded as dictatorship.

Michael Mandelbaum
Michael Mandelbaum

On the other hand, in number of these countries the ruling autocrats carry out policies friendly and favorable to the United States, and there is legitimate fear that if they are swept from power, the new regime will not follow these pro-American and pro-Western policies and may be even more dictatorial than the old regime. So this is very difficult to reign for the American government and would be for any Administration, Republican or Democrat.

Yackee: We have so many areas of conflict right now. Is the Administration going to have to choose a reaction for a particular nation?

Mandelbaum: Well, obviously the Administration will tailor its response to the particulars of each individual country. But in many of these countries, as I say, the Administration and the country faces a conflict between our interests and our values.

But this is made slightly easier, the problem of the policy making is made slightly easier by the fact that the United States does not have a lot of leverage in a lot of these countries. In most of these countries, we do have some leverage in Egypt because of our aid package that goes mainly to the army.

But we really don’t have any leverage in Libya, unless we were to decide to use military force which, I think, is highly unlikely although I have heard calls in recent days for the international enforcement of no fly-zone over Tripoli so that Gahdafi cannot bomb his own citizens….

Yackee: Do you have any advice for the Administration?

Mandelbaum: My advice is to watch each event closely to keep foremost in their mind American interests, and I have two specific policy recommendations.

One of them -- and this is presented in the New York Times by their foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman -- is to do something about our dependence on oil by raising the price of gasoline. The real danger for the long term for the United States is that instability in the oil exporting part of the world -- and it is that the part of the world – will send the price of oil worldwide sky-high, plunging us and other countries back into deep recessions. And the way to avoid that is to reduce our dependence on oil, and the way to reduce our dependence is to impose higher gasoline tax. I make this proposal in my recent book “The Frugal Super Power: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era.”

And the second thing, I think the administration and we all should keep very much in mind is the proper definition of democracy. Democracy does not mean just elections. It also means the protection of liberty, the protection of political liberty, that is civil rights, the protection of economic liberty, that is private property and the protection of religious liberty, that is freedom of worship.

So although we can cheer on dissidents and protesters against dictatorship, we have to remember that what we want for these countries is not simply free elections, but also the kind of protection of liberty that requires institutions that, unfortunately, take a long time to build.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs